Biography of Xerxes


XERES, King of Persia, was the eldest son of Darius and his second wife Atossa. Darius died in the beginning of the year 485 B.C., in the midst of his preparations for a third expedition against Greece. Xerxes, after having subdued the rebellious Egyptians, and appointed Achaemenes governor, gave his whole attention to the completion of the preparations begun by his father, which occupied nearly four years. Immense hordes of men were gathered from all parts of the vast Persian Empire, from the steppes of Asia, from the banks of the Indus and its tributaries, and from the interior of Africa. An immense fleet was furnished by the Phoenicians and other maritime nations subject to Persia. Stores of provisions sufficient to support the immense army, were collected at different points along the intended route of march.

A bridge of boats, a mile in length, was built across the Hellespont. This bridge, however, was destroyed by a storm, on which (according to the Greek historian,) Xerxes ordered the heads of the engineers to be cut off, and was so enraged at the rebellious and disrespecful sea, that he ordered 300 lashes to be administered to it, and a set of fetters to be cast into it. Another bridge, consisting of a double line of boats was built; and a canal was cut through Mount Athos, at the point of the peninsula of Acre, in Macedonia, on which the fleet of Mardonius had been wrecked in 499 B.C. The preparations were complete m 481 B.C., and in the autumn of that year, Xerxes arrived in Sardis, where he wintered. In the spring of the following year the vast assemblage began to move toward the Hellespont; and according to Herodotus, it took seven days and nights to march across the bridge. After crossing the Hellespont, the march was continued along the Thracian coast toward Doriscus, on the Hebrus, where a halt was made on a large plain, and the army numbered. The fleet drew up near to Doriscus. According to Herodotus, the whole number of fighting men, military and naval amounted to nearly 2,500,000, and the fleet consisted of 12O7 ships of war, besides 3,000 smaller vessels. Herodotus supposes that the number of camp followers, exclusive of eunuchs and women, would amount to more than that of the fighting men. So that, according to him, the whole number of people assembled on this occasion, would be considerably over 6,000,000. This number is doubtless greatly exaggerated; still, it cannot be doubted that this was one of the greatest multitudes ever brought together for any purpose under the sun. This immense force moved on without resistance through submissive nations, until it reached Thermopylae, where it was brought to a stand by the army of Leonidas.

Although the Greeks were entirely defeated and slain, it was not without heavy loss to the Persians. On the same day, and on the third day after, the Persian fleet, which had previously suffered severely from a storm, was defeated with heavy loss by the Greeks, off Cape Artemisium in Euboea. Xerxes continued his march on to Athens, which he destroyed.

Meantime the two fleets had sailed round from Euboea and taken up their positions in the narrow strait between Salamis and the Attic coast, where the famous naval battle of Salamis took place (September 480 B.C.) Xerxes witnessed the fight from a lofty throne which he had caused to be erected on one of the slopes of Mount Aegalens,

"The rocky brow

Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis."

But instead of witnessing the swift annihilation of the Greeks as he had expected, he beheld the utter destruction of his own fleet. Confounded at the inglorious result of all his vast preparations for the overwhehning of Greece, and becoming alarmed for his personal safety, he fled, under an escort of 60,000 men, with all haste towards the Hellespont, which he reached in 45 days. The bridge of boats having been again destroyed by a storm, he crossed over to the Asiatic coast in a vessel. Mardonius was left with 300,000 men to carry on operations in Greece. In 479 B.C., the Greeks defeated Mardonius in the famous battle of Plataea, and on the same day gained another victory over the Persians at Mycale in Ionia.

Next year, (478 B.C.,) the Persians lost their last possession in Europe by the capture of Sestos, on the Hellespont. The war was continued for a few years longer, though the struggle was now virtually at an end. Little more is known of the personal history of Xerxes, except that, in 465 B.C., he was murdered by Artabanus, who aspired to the throne, and was succeeded by his own son, Artaxerxes. From all that is known of Xerxes, he appears to have been utterly ignoble in character, vain-glorious, licentious, cruel and cowardly. His famous invasion was undertaken apparently for no other purpose than to gratify a weak-minded vanity, which was delighted with the idea of being able to assemble at one time "ships by thousands" and "men in nations," who were at the mercy of his unprincipled caprice.